The Wandering Palate’s recipe for an ideal urban family holiday catering to everyone’s needs and desires.
One of the conundrums of family holiday planning is trying to cater to everyone’s individual wants and needs, both adults and children. Actually, the reality is everything gets planned around the children, which is where most hotels fall short in catering to the most demanding of all guests. They may not pay the bill but I can assure you, if the kids are happy mum is happy. And if mums happy, dad is happy and you will potentially have a repeat customer.
If you live in Singapore, as we do, deciding on a destination for short holiday’s can be equally vacillating with so many appealing destinations within relatively short reach, that is anything from one to four hours flying time.
The same could be said for many Asian metropolises and invariably the first contemplation is to escape the frenetic concrete jungle to the tranquillity of a resort beach, country village or remote jungle hideaway.
However, on this occasion we opted for a long weekend trek in the urban jungle of Hong Kong.
Before you start thinking we are conurbation-centric, trading one metropolis for another, there is some compelling logic in selecting the destination and itinerary, least according to my seven year-old daughter.
It goes something like this, in no particular order although the first two being strategic. “Singapore Airlines on the biggest, best plane in the world (A380), train ride to the city (Airport Express), Disneyland, Ocean Park Pandas, the Hotel with the swimming pool that’s warm where you can swim at night and see all the lights and boats, and they have yummy room service breakfast, and they bring me special treats.”
My daughter had been campaigning on revisiting Hong Kong Disneyland for months with considerable determination and perspicacity. I succumbed on the basis that under no circumstances would we stay at the Disneyland resort hotel, from experience the definitive of bad taste, pedestrian food and woeful service.
My wife joined in the chorus of logic suggesting we stay at the Four Seasons as she could go shopping at the International Finance Centre (IFC) mall without even venturing outside, after all it was winter in Hong Kong. I am sure I need not explain one’s wife’s persuasive rationale or pragmatism of having every known designer label and more right underneath one’s hotel room.
Equal justification for staying at the Four Seasons, it is my daughters hotel chain of choice having stayed in several locations, her first at the Four Season Canary Wharf, London when she was three and has remained a convert ever since.
I know this has overtones of precociousness; however I can assure you she is quite grounded and knows a good hotel from a bad one, not only discerning in her taste, has her mother’s intolerance for lack of amenities and bad service. And yes, the Four Seasons Canary Wharf is business hotel but I can assure you someone in the Four Seasons higher realms of management has children and knows exactly how to press their button – personally named cookies, free soft toys and colouring in sets, and extra service akin to how Italian mamma’s dote over children.
Further compelling logic is Four Seasons Hong Kong location, in terms of overall convenience is hard to beat with the Airport Express from Chep Lok Airport virtually pulling up underneath the hotel at Hong Kong Central Station. Even with check-in luggage, the 23 minute train ride and five minute stroll through IFC sees you in the Four Seasons lobby within half an hour of clearing immigration moreover, without the hassle of transferring to a taxi to reach your hotel. If you’re not travelling light the hotel porter will greet you at the Airport Express station.
Over and above all this, for the adults at least, the Four Seasons has two 3 Michelin Star restaurants where again one can indulge (gastronomically) without leaving the confines of the hotel. The puritanical socialist in me fades and my capitalist, consumerist, wandering palate appetite overrides having dinner on our first night at the sublime French restaurant, Caprice. Having dined their several times; this is arguably the finest European cuisine you experience in Asia.
It’s a supremely decedent space with dazzling chandeliers and extravagantly spaced and equally spacious tables defining an encompassing feeling of luxury. Adding to the theatre is a huge open kitchen kept spanking clean, as are the uniforms of the army of Chefs diligently working the stoves, headed up by executive Chef Vincent Thierry. My favourite dish of his is roasted Poulet de Bresse which is presented in its splendour whole in a gleaming copper pot, then carved and served in three different courses with individual accompaniments and sauces; about as good is chicken gets.
I also enjoy the friendly professionalism of Caprice sommelier, Cedric Bilien, who has an excellent, broad knowledge of wines and a passionate familiarity with his comprehensive wine cellar and impressive range of cheeses. I was particularly impressed by his affinity with New Zealand wines, coming from a Frenchman, as we shared our enthusiasm for the Two Paddocks Pinot Noir that he was serving by the glass.
And if you think this might be adults only dining experience, my daughter was the centre of attention with the Chef coming up with a special dish for her, langoustines with wide tagliatelle, cucumber and butter sauce, which she absolutely loved and her first encounter with lobster. A mille feuille with strawberries and cream was met with equal enthusiasm.
The following night we dined at Lung King Heen – View of the Dragon and it is certainly a commanding view of Victoria harbour. It is the only Michelin Three Star Chinese restaurant in the world, and arguably the best contemporary Cantonese cuisine you will experience on this planet.
We were the first people in the restaurant at 6pm, greeted by the Executive Chef, Chan Yan Rak, at the reception. Well least he was going through the bookings for the evening with the receptionists, but was very social and struck up a conversation with us. He came over to the table and engaged my wife talking in Cantonese running through the entire menu and all the minutiae of what was fresh and particularly good today, with all the prerequisite animation and deliberation that is customary with ordering in a Cantonese restaurant.
As it turned out, despite the restaurant being particularly known for seafood, our menu ended up with a lot of BBQ dishes (suiting our mood) to which our expert veteran sommelier recommended a San Felice Chianti Riserva Poggio Rosso 2001, which happens to be one of my favourite wines and was drinking superbly moreover, a brilliant match to the food and served with a professional suaveness of a Royal Butler. Ceremonial service is a key element to the Cantonese dining experience, to which we experienced lot of attention from the experienced senior staff here, fussing with great alacrity and animation making it all the more personal and genuine.
The bill for dinning at either of these restaurants will be eye watering for many however, if you have dinned in Europe recently at the two or three star Michelin level, you will be more than satisfied with the relative value and impeccable standards of Caprice and Lung King Heen.
The hotel itself is superbly appointed and rooms, as they are universally with the Four Seasons group; spacious with plenty of hanging room for clothes (inadequate in many hotels) and a roomy, functional bathroom. Make sure you request a harbour view room, which is what Hong Kong is visually all about.
On that note, the Four Seasons infinity pool is about as spectacular view of Victoria harbour you will get. Moreover, it is heated to 28 degrees in winter and has underwater speakers that pipe music, which I can only assume keeps the lap swimmers entertained.
Neither the ominous dark clouds in the sky and at 6pm starting to get dark deterred my daughter from going for a swim. We make for a rather unusual sight as we walk to the pool deck on the 6th floor; donned in our white bathrobes walking past the front door of Caprice and all the well healed getting pampered at the spa clinic and salon next door (my very good sources tell me one the best hairdressers in Hong Kong).
There is a touch of déjà vue for us, having walked through the lobby at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf in the same attire where one actually has to walk outside to the adjunct spa and pool complex, indeed walking through Nobu restaurant’s foyer. Although that time we had a bodyguard escort, having got in to the lift to be greeted with a beaming smile and “Good morning” from Singapore’s statesman, Mr Lee Quan Yew, also heading for the pool.
Back in Hong Kong, the water temperature was wonderful, floating on your backs soaking in this quite surreal environment, surrounded by skyscrapers with Hong Kong’s synonymous cityscape and light display, mesmerised by the panoramic view over to Kowloon and the silhouetted ferries and junks chugging up and down in the night.
There is a spa in the far corner of the pool area with a bird’s eye view down the harbour which I would suggest has to be the most romantic spot at sunset in all Hong Kong.
There is absolutely nothing I could say as a negative about this hotel having always experienced faultless and impeccable service, from the porter to housekeeping (special mention for the highly attentive and personal housekeeping staff), and a helpful concierge service.
From a personal perspective, an improvement would be a more emphasis on breakfast, and rather than just the a la carte menu in The Lounge at lobby level, I would like to see a spectacular buffet at Caprice, including some of the brilliant Dim Sum that Lung King Heen serves at lunch.
I would even go as far to open Lung King Heen earlier for breakfast. As Nick Landers, the restaurant columnist for the Financial Times, points out in his review of London establishments and a fast-growing trend, “The Importance of Breakfast”, there is a dearth of seriously good breakfast venues in Hong Kong and a clearly potential for it to catch, to which I am positive that Four Seasons could champion this, both for hotel guest, the power breakfast for corporate and socialites.
The connectivity from the Four Seasons Hong Kong is perhaps the most important facet for a long weekend, where time is of the essence. The walkways that connect underneath and above ground give you access within minutes to the Star Ferry, Bus Depot, and Hong Kong MTR and Disneyland line. There are a continuous walkways and links between IFC and waterfront buildings and Central arcades that you can literally walk almost the entire Central Shopping District covered, including the world’s longest escalator that connects the Mid Levels.
I will go in to more detail on our extended weekend itinerary and recommendations where to eat in a separate article, along with our Hong Kong shopping gurus inside running on the best boutiques and fashion stores.
So, put aside that metropolis neurosis and enjoy an action-packed, indulgent long weekend in one of the most dynamic, pulsating cities in the world, in unsurpassed style at The Four Seasons Hong Kong.